This week’s topic for One Simple Change- Manage Your Stress- is absolutely crucial to good health. While I’ve definitely alluded to the importance of stress management in many of my previous OSC posts, I have not yet dedicated a full post to it. Time to change that.

I won’t tip toe around the fact that I feel strongly about discussing stress right now because- you guessed it- I’m really stressed! I’m worried about meeting my book deadline, we’ve had some unforeseen financial expenses over at our rental house, and my dog’s got a worrisome lump on his abdomen (I took him to the vet, but won’t have test results for a few days). Also: parenting an exquisitely sensitive 10 year old girl can be stressful, and I’ve got a 13 year old boy, too (need I say more?). The icing on today’s “stresscake” is the monster “Frankenstorm” that’s going to hit the East Coast all too soon (and the fact that my husband is Arizona at this moment…I really wish he wasn’t).

Let’s face it: we’ve all got different things that stress us out/make us anxious. Stress can come from just about anywhere including your work (or maybe the traffic on your daily commute), your finances, your family…and yes, maybe even the weather. Stress can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Stress of all kinds is an avoidable part of life.

The key issue here, though, is how our stress affects us. Are we able to “roll with the punches” or does our stress makes us exhausted and physically sick? Well, it all depends on how we manage it.

Please know that if you have been through or are currently in the middle of a very long and drawn out stressful situation and it has or is affecting your health, the following lifestyle measures can definitely help. I do, however, also suggest that you seek the help of a health practitioner (preferably one versed in natural medicine) who can give you an individualized treatment plan.

Tips for Managing Stress

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is more restorative to the body than just about anything else; getting enough sleep is an essential part of properly managing stress. Not sleeping enough is a physical stress in and of itself, and sleep deprivation makes it less likely that you’ll be able to handle all that life throws at you. Most people do not sleep enough. I already wrote two One Simple Change posts on the importance of sleep and how to sleep better…you can read them here and here. Bottom line: get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, and more if you are very stressed. Make it a point to go to bed by 10 pm because your adrenal glands (the tiny organs responsible for the housing and release of your stress hormones) are said to be resting between the hours of 11 pm and 1 am.

Exercise

Getting the right kind of exercise is also essential to healthy stress management. Exercise can decrease our stress hormones AND cause a rise in endorphins (which make us feel good). After a couple of years of being pretty wishy-washy about exercise myself, and after I realized I had to be authentic and make one simple change of my own, I joined a Crossfit gym about a month ago. Since then, I’ve been going to the gym every weekday morning after I get my kids off to school. I love it! I don’t think about any thing else that’s going on in my life while I am there…I just work my ass off for an hour. I leave really sweaty and with a clear head…ready to tackle the day. I know myself, and I know that if I wasn’t exercising just about every day right now, I’d be feeling much more stressed.

{Please note that if you have very high levels of chronic stress, you should not do very intense exercise. If you do, exercise can backfire on you: it can make you fatigued, depress your immune system, and possibly even cause you to gain weight and body fat because of the way it affects your stress hormones. So if you’ve been dealing with a lot of stress for a long time and you are feeling wiped out, you’re best off focusing on low-intensity forms of exercise that are calming/relaxing and that will help to restore you (not wear you down further): like stretching (gentle yoga is great), light walking and/or slow swimming}.

Eat a Nourishing Diet

When we are stressed, it’s common to make poor food choices. I’m sure we’ve all told ourselves that we “deserve” a pint of ice cream (or a plate of French fries, or whatever) when life gets hard…hello emotional eating!!! Junk food isn’t going to alleviate your stress, however: eating lots of it (or falling into other destructive habits: like smoking, drinking, etc.) is actually one of the worst things you can do when you’re under stress. Stress can be rough on the body, so you should support yourself with good nutrition. Eat a diet that’s low in refined carbohydrates and sugars and that contains high quality protein and lots of vegetables. You should also eat plenty of healthy fats (foods high in the omega-3 fatty acids are particularly helpful). When you’re stressed, help your body out by staying away from any food that you know doesn’t agree with you; I personally save most of my food “splurges” for when I’m feeling calm and free of stress. Also, make sure you eat breakfast every day and have regularly timed meals to keep your blood sugar nice and steady when you are stressed.

Watch the Caffeine

Even though stress can leave you feeling depleted of energy, guzzling caffeine is not the answer. Your adrenal glands are already taking a beating when you’re stressed (because they’re on overdrive secreting the hormones adrenaline and cortisol); drinking coffee and/or sodas with caffeine only serves to stimulate them further. This is not a good thing: if you exhaust your adrenal glands, you will end up sick. While I don’t think coffee is completely evil, it’s definitely a stimulant and caffeine has a lots of negative properties. Another problem is that caffeinated drinks can suppress your appetite: if you drink a lot of it, you might be more likely to skip breakfast and not eat enough nourishing foods in general. Instead of over-relying on caffeine to give you a boost when you’re stressed, work on the naturally energizing lifestyle measures I mentioned above (more sleep, proper exercise, and eating a healthy diet). It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough sunlight).

Know Your Limits

Learn how to say “no” so you can keep your life as simple as possible: a less busy life is a less stressful life. Lofty goals can be a source of stress…better to keep your goals realistic and attainable.

Breathe Deeply

A lovely reader named Eileen sent me this link, which reminded me that I often rely on deep breathing to calm myself down when I am stressed. The beauty of deep breathing is that it can be done anytime and anywhere that you feel overwhelmed and anxious. Focus on nothing but your breath while you are doing this, and it can works almost like magic.

Practice Mindfulness/Being in the Moment

Being in the moment is wonderful because it forces you to stop thinking about ALL of the things that are stressing you out so you can focus on one thing at a time. Practice being mindful when you’re doing mundane chores like washing the dishes or folding laundry and you will see that these tasks can be relaxing, not annoying. Be mindful when you eat and you’ll get more joy out of your meal (you’ll probably eat less and digest your food better, too). Be mindful when you work and you’ll be able to eliminate the distraction that keep you from getting things done. Be mindful when you’re with friends and family and you’ll get more out of your relationships. Really.

Make Time For You and The Things You Enjoy

Down time is really important for stress management. Avoid being too busy and/or working too much…let go of physical and emotional clutter and be kind to yourself. Some ways to relax: call a friend, take a hot bath, get a massage, connect to nature, pursue a hobby, read a book, cuddle with your partner, or with your pets or your kids (or with a friend or relative’s pets or kids…but not with their partner!), cook an elaborate meal for no reason if that’s fun for you (or go out for one), take a vacation to a sunny place…

I could go on and on, but I have to go finish preparing for the storm (getting ready for a stressful situation can help alleviate stress later!): my friend Jessica posted some great tips before Hurricane Irene last year…make sure you take a look if Sandy’s coming your way.

Please feel free to tell me if you think I missed anything, and how YOU manage stress, in the comments below.

And please stay safe if you’re in the storm’s path.

 

15 Comments

  1. 1

    Liren — October 28, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    Winnie, the timing of this is uncanny. I have definitely been feeling stressed lately but I am really trying to make sure I get enough sleep! It is comforting to know I’m not alone. Hang in there, thinking of you as you brace the storm!

  2. 2

    Skylor @Sproutlifestyle — October 28, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

    “Know your limits” is the one that I falter on the most. I am a yes person to the point that I over commit ten fold, and then I become a no person and say no to it all. It’s very imbalanced. Time for that to change.

  3. 3

    Stella — October 28, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    I needed to hear ALL of this today, especially about saying “no” which I am terrible about. But going forward, no is going to be my new catchphrase. ;) One thing I’ve started doing to manage my stress (also book related) is to carve out time with my husband. It’s so easy to neglect our family, especially when they’re supportive, because you always say “oh, they’ll understand.” But it winds up making me feel pretty terrible because I feel like I’ve been a bad wife/daughter/sister/friend. Making a little time in my life to give back to the people who love me has really helped keep me from spiraling into a self absorbed stress ball.

  4. 4

    Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen — October 28, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    I needed this, I am going bonkers with the stress of life right now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom!

  5. 5

    Jessica / Green Skies and Sugar Trips — October 28, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    Stress stress stress, it is the WORST!!!! I still do your tip about drinking a glass of water in the morning. And I can actually feel the difference in the mornings I forget! It’s actually a huge relief to know I am not the only one stressed beyond my limits right now….

    Thank you so much for the Hurricane Prep shout out! There are so many little ways we can prep now to have a better outcome later. Stay safe and let me know if you need anything!

    xoxo :-)

  6. 6

    Paula — October 28, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

    I’m praying for everyone in the path of Hurricane Sandy and can’t wait until it’s all over. All of your tips for managing stress are great and I firmly believe in the ability of yoga to help with ones ability to practice mindfulness and deep breathing. Though I don’t do yoga as often as I used to, when I find myself feeling overwhelmed, I stop what I’m doing and do a few of my favourite yoga exercises and do feel that it helps a lot.

    I’ll be watching Twitter to see how everyone on the East Coast manages over the next little while. Stay safe.

  7. 7

    Mika@Generic Cialis — October 29, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    I just hope that they are all fine,i felt the same situation when a typhoon hit our area.I am praying that those victims who are currently facing that calamity will feel better soon.

    Thanks,
    Mika@Generic Cialis

  8. 8

    amelia from z tasty life — October 29, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    practicing mindfulness is definitively key. We can worry about yesterday and tomorrow, but today is what we live in! So much so, that for me, I have had to cut back on a lot of “extras” and say no to myself more frequently. My work is so intense lately that I have had to “pause” the blog in order to have tim for my family. But I do not mind a small break. It helps re-assess direction. I do look forward to slowing down a bit over the holidays and doing some cooking.
    Great post, as always, Winnie.

  9. 9

    Hilary — October 29, 2012 @ 11:18 am

    I truly hope you don’t get hit too bad with this storm! Thinking of your poor chicken’s and bee’s (and you guys too!). Good luck and take care!!

  10. 10

    Laura — October 29, 2012 @ 11:52 pm

    We have few things in common, stress, an older boy (mine is almost 15), and a so called “spirited” daughter. She has been so challenging on and off and I had moments where I literally felt like pulling my own hair.

    I need to learn how to manage my stress better since it is really affecting me. I get enough sleep, but don’t eat well, nor exercise.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    I hope your dog is ok.

  11. 11

    Bethesda Locavore — October 30, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

    Wonderful tips. I need to work on the sleep and exercise piece, and I can tell I am a nicer person when I ease up on the caffeine. I went through a period (when parenthood was easier and I had more time) of doing an early morning boot camp and I felt AMAZING the days I spent an hour outside sweating and running before starting the day.

    Hope you guys did okay with Sandy …

  12. 12

    Laura (Tutti Dolci) — November 7, 2012 @ 2:01 am

    Great tips, Winnie! When I’m stressed, I like to take a 15 minute break from whatever I’m doing and head outside for a little Vitamin D. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but it helps!

  13. 13

    Haley joel — November 30, 2012 @ 4:11 am

    We all understand how it feels after the day when your in your bed, the amount of stress you have in the working hours , i am 45 and barely able to manage things , i guess reading this , will gasp some ideas which may improvise my daily life routine. thanks for sharing

  14. 14

    Smith — March 21, 2013 @ 3:24 am

    Its so true some changes in your daily life can give you a huge relief, so i guess you got plan things where you give some time for yourself and think what actually you been through out the years and how you can make it better. the post shared has some valuable points which can help in improvising things.

  15. 15

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    [...] that you enjoy. Move your body! Get lots of deep sleep, and some sunlight. Learn to properly manage stress. Strive for balance in terms of what you eat and in your life as a whole: I think that will go a [...]

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